President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and the majority leaders in both houses of Congress are not the first group of people to realize that the health care system in the United States is in need of reform. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has been preaching on this for decades. The fact that health care costs have risen so high to the point where tens of millions of Americans cannot afford health care coverage or elect not to pay for it suggests that the current system is broken. Access to affordable health care is a key component of Catholic Social Teaching and the fact that millions of Americans do not have access to it is simply wrong; dare I say sinful. The Bishops are right to call for reform.

This issue has become politicized, meaning that a lot of people on both sides of the aisle use manipulated data points and fear tactics to push their agendas. Really difficult problems become very simple (albeit watered down) sound bytes. The average American has no idea what the proposed House bill is all about; it is, of course 2,000 pages long and no doubt filled with all of that legal mumbo jumbo that causes me to break out in hives (personally, the world would be better off with fewer lawyers and fewer tax accountants, but that is another post all together). The point is, all most of us know about this legislation is what we hear politicized on the news.

One issue that has received a lot of airtime surrounds whether or not federal dollars will be used to fund abortions. With over 50% of people in this country now considering themselves pro-life, the thought that their tax dollars may be used to fund abortions is, frankly, sinful. Initially, the President understood and respected this position as he, on multiple occasions, pointed out that abortion will not be covered by the legislation under consideration. However, over the past few decades we have come not to take our politicians at their word so, when a House Democrat from Michigan, Bart Stupak, pushed for an amendment clearly spelling out that federal dollars would not be used to fund abortions, President Obama should have been relieved for 2 reasons; 1 it clearly states something the president has promised and 2. this amendment was the primary reason the house voted in favor of the bill.

The fallout from this event has been interesting to watch. The President and speaker Pelosi along with other pro-abortion democrats are not happy with the House bill in its current form. They are not pleased with the Stupak amendment and many in the senate have pledged not to vote for any health care reform bill that contains this language. Given the President’s multiple statements regarding abortion and healthcare reform, it begs the question, why?

Put that maddening puzzle aside for a second. I suggest that even if you are pro-abortion, you should be in favor of the Stupak amendment if you want this bill to pass. Here’s why:

  1. The bill does not prevent abortion from being funded by federal dollars in the case of rape, incest, or when the mother’s life is in danger. Otherwise, arguably abortion is not a necessary medical procedure but rather an elective surgery. Which other elective surgeries are covered by this proposed legislation?
  1. Abortions are actually one of the least expensive medical procedures to have performed, particularly early on in a pregnancy. In fact, it costs less for an early term abortion than it does for many vision procedures or dental procedures that are not covered by most health plans.
  1. This amendment does not ban abortion, it simply prohibits the use of federal dollars to fund abortions under the new legislation. It simply applies the principles of the Hyde Amendment to this new legislation. As such, cost to the woman seeking an abortion do not change as a result of the Stupak Amendment nor does her access to having that abortion.

All of this, however, should be a moot point. With or without abortion, health care reform, as it is being addressed by the administration and congress, should not see the light of day because it does not address the root causes of why health care costs have escalated to where they are. Consider the following:

  1. Doctors have to charge higher fees to cover exorbitant malpractice insurance premiums. Additionally, healthcare costs rise when doctors order unnecessary tests to cover their “you know whats” for fear of misdiagnosis which can lead to further legal liability. If this liability is not “capped,” this cycle of high premium/unnecessary tests will expand and continue to add to inflation in the healthcare sector.
  1. Managed care organizations (of which the government is proposing to become the largest if the public option passes) only reimburse doctors a fraction of their fees. Additionally, doctors have to wait a long time to get paid and, as a result, must see more patients to maintain their income (and pay off all those debts incurred in medical school). Seeing 30+ patients a day (and finding the time to deal with multiple insurance hassles – ie taking multiple calls from a pharmacy about Ms. Smith’s Medicare not covering Forteo) leads to fatigue, which increases the possibility of making a misdiagnosis.

The interrelated dynamics of number 1 and number 2 are what cause healthcare costs to continually inflate. They will continue to do so even if every American has affordable healthcare available to them. As a result, our taxes will increase proportionately. We will not be solving the healthcare cost crises; rather, we will be funding costs that will continue to escalate by robbing from Peter to pay Paul. Responsibility will now be on a wider base of Americans (i.e. all tax payers) vs. just those who currently pay for premiums. The fact that not all Americans pay taxes, but will have access to government sponsored healthcare is another post all together.

Real healthcare reform must address the root causes of escalating healthcare costs. Otherwise you are treating the symptom and not the cause. As such, with or without the Stupak amendment, this administration’s approach to healthcare reform should takeoff like a led zeppelin.